Album Review: Slaves “Take Control”-The Whole Fucking Scene On Their Dinner Plate

Album Review: Slaves “Take Control”-The Whole Fucking Scene On Their Dinner Plate

Slaves have come a long way since the beginning of last year, with debut album Are You Satisfied? reaching number 8 in the UK charts and the duo graduating to the main stage of Reading and Leeds Festival . Anyone fearing a more poppy album because of this can rest easy, as producer Mike D (of Beastie Boys fame) has helped strip down and focus the band’s sound, rather than polish and confuse it. Opening track ‘Spit It Out’ could easily have been included on their debut, whilst the 45 seconds of chaos that is ‘Fuck The Hi-Hat’ could have come from even earlier, but both are still stellar songs and certain to make you feel like head-butting the nearest wall.

Other songs on the album are less typical, with ‘Consume Or Be Consumed’ being more of a throwback to early noughties hip hop than the jagged punk rock the band are famous for. ‘Steer Clear’, featuring Baxter Dury, is slow, heartfelt, even melodic, showing that despite their explosive entrance onto the scene a year or two ago, Slaves aren’t  a one-trick pony and are more than capable of stepping out of their comfort zone.

Lyrically the duo also impress, with the repeated refrain of “Too Connected/ Disconnected” on ‘Play Dead’ conjuring up images of meeting your mates for a drink and spending the whole evening on your phone, whilst ‘Same Again’ tackles club culture head on with the memorable lines “They got one hand round your throat/ The other gripping your balls”.

Whilst this attack on the status quo could easily come across as condescending, what makes it all work so well is that the band completely refuse to take themselves seriously. ‘Rich Man’, their attack on the wealthy elite, may make reference to offshore bank accounts, but it seems more interested in the titular figure’s silk pyjamas and fine china than his business practices, and it’s this tongue in cheek approach to the problems with modern culture that makes Take Control work so well.

Slaves might be angry at the state of the world, but they choose to laugh at the stupidity of it all, rather than cry at the misery. If I’d made an album this good I’d probably be laughing too.

If you want to hear more about Kent’s foremost musical duo, have a look at my interview with the band.

Spring King Talk Reading, Multi-Tasking And Mad Fans

We caught up with Manchester’s Spring King after their storming set on the NME/Radio 1 stage at Reading. Here’s what they had to say on the festival, weird fans and whether they’d consider a Main Stage slot.

Did you guys ever go to Reading or Leeds when you were younger?

Tarek Musa (vocals, drums): “Reading and Leeds were always somewhere I wanted to go to. But I could never get enough mates together or find the cash. It was always a dream to make it here.”

Zane Lowe playing you as the first ever track on his Beats 1 show is what really helped catapult you to where you are now. Did you get any warning?

Andy Morton (guitars): “No, we weren’t given any warning whatsoever. Pete was at work, Tarek was in the studio, James was at work.”

James Green (bass) : “Yeah, I thought about checking the Guardian Live blog [of the Beats 1 launch], but decided I couldn’t be arsed.”

Tarek: “I remember getting a text saying, ‘Congratulations’ and I was like what for? My emails were just going insane. Took about five days for it to sink in, and I just got drunk for five days.”

Tarek: “I can’t wait for that one to be a question on pub quizzes.”

James: “No-one’s gonna get it.”

Tarek, you sing and play drums, which must be hard…

Andy: “I feel really bad for him. I’ll be on stage and sometimes I’ll have a bit when I’m not doing anything and I’m really tired. Then I look over and Tarek’s using every single limb and his voice at the same time.”

Tarek: “The hardest song for me is ‘Who Are You?’ because it’s so syncopated and the vocals are so off with the drums. We all leave drenched in sweat. As long as one of us is sweaty or one of us is throwing up we know it’s been a great show. Giving it everything we’ve got, that’s what it’s about.”

How do you maintain the energy of your shows on the bigger stages you’ve been playing recently?

Tarek: “It’s just about people going absolutely nuts. I just focus on the people having a good time, it could be massive or tiny, as long as people are jumping around I’m good.”

Andy: “You could see the dust clouds from where the pits were forming today. It’s weird seeing that, just mental.”

What has been your weirdest fan encounter?

Andy: “We played in Manchester and there was this girl in the front row going, ‘Andy! Andy!’ so I said, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and she says, ‘Have this!’ and just hands me 50p.”

James: “You look like you need it, mate…”

And finally, Festival Republic last year, NME/Radio 1 Stage this year – so Main Stage next year?

Tarek: “Yeah, if the offer’s right, maybe we’ll do Main Stage next year! This has been a dream come true, anything from here is great. We’ll play anything, anywhere.”

James: “I kind of prefer this. The Main Stage is amazing but I prefer being in a tent. If we could just stick here or go back to Festival Republic and climb the bill there that’d be amazing.”

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/

Slaves: Talking Punk, Politics, Grime, Gender And Eastenders Backstage At Reading

We caught up with Slaves before their first ever Main Stage slot at Reading Festival; Laurie did most of the talking because Isaac was resting his voice, but he couldn’t help chipping in when we were talking about Eastenders…

You’ve said it’s been one of your dreams to play the Main Stage at Reading. How does it feel to live that dream?

Laurie Vincent (guitars): “Yeah, very exciting, quite surreal. We’ve played here four years in a row. It was the first festival we ever played, on the BBC Introducing stage. Then we played The Lock Up and then the NME/Radio 1 Stage and now the Main Stage.”

Talking of surreal experiences, one of your fans has a ‘Slavvs’ tattoo – how does it feel to have such a surreal fan base?

Laurie: “Yeah, I loved that. I dunno, maybe people can relate to us. One thing I like about music is that the music I like always makes me think I wanna be in their gang. Madness, The Specials, The Clash, Boy Better Know… Anything that sort of inspires that gang mentality of, ‘They look like they’re fun’. I think that’s what we sort of have. Maybe some singer-songwriters don’t get a chance to portray that image.”

You covered Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ at the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge which has been talked about a lot, but you also covered LCD Soundsystem – what made you pick that one?

Laurie: “I think because we both like tons of music and they’re one of our favourite bands. We put that song on [‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’] and just realised it was a three chord punk song. With covers, everyone thinks it’s easy for us. But we always struggle. We beat ourselves up for days and days, and then usually it just finally clicks.”

You’ve played a lot of festivals recently. Do you notice a difference in the crowds?

Laurie: “Every festival has a different vibe. Latitude took us by surprise because it’s a sleepy festival, more of a family festival. But as a band we take the same act everywhere. I think that’s why it works, because we don’t change for stages. Whatever happens can surprise us.”

Reading is a lot more diverse musically than it used to be. How do you feel about that?

Laurie: “I think diversity is always a good thing. Growing up, we lived in a world where you had to pick your allegiances. I think it’s much healthier to be influenced by all walks of life. I think as a punter coming to this festival now you’d be way more inspired than by just watching rock bands. We’re all humans and we should all integrate I think.”

What’s your take on the lack of female bands at Reading?

Laurie: “That’s true. It’s really hard though, isn’t it? It’s like saying there aren’t many ginger people. You can’t help it at a certain point in history what bands come along. There was a time when you had The Breeders, Alanis Morissette, Le Tigra, Bikini Kill, all at one time. It’s a shame not to see as many female musicians, but then you’ve got people like Ellie from Wolf Alice who is just flying the flag so powerfully, it almost makes her an even stronger figure. There are some brilliant female musicians. It’d be brilliant if we lived in a 50/50 world, but that’s just not how it works out, is it? There are a lot of females in rock music, there’s just more men.”

You’re one of the few non-grime acts that are really supporting the genre. What’s grime’s secret?

Laurie: “I think they went and took it back to what they knew. I really liked Dizzee Rascal and Wiley and a lot of the original grime stuff. But then, like any genre, it got loads of money thrown at it and it loses its way a little bit. You have the same story back in the day with punk going commercial. I think BBK made the decision to drop all of that and dressed in tracksuits. It was a very relatable image. It was punk, and that’s something we can relate to as a band that makes music for the love of it.”

You don’t like to be pigeonholed as punk, but do you ever wish you were part of a bigger subculture rather than just being out on your own?

Laurie: “I was talking about this the other day. Sometimes I think you’re not aware of what’s happening at the time and it doesn’t have a name. There’s a lot of guitar bands coming along at the moment, people like Spring King, Wonk Unit… It would be nice to be part of a musical genre but the internet has blown up so much that people can just go and make whatever kind of music they want. The reason we don’t like being called punk is because it paints an image of mohawks and leather jackets. Our music has the sentiment of punk, but we’re not punks, because as soon as you call punk ‘punk’, it’s not punk.”

You talk a lot about apathy in your songs. Do you wish there were more bands around now like Crass or Rage Against The Machine that were more overtly political?

Laurie: “Yeah I do, because we’re really missing it. But media outlets wouldn’t even get their message out, they’d just ignore them. Crass and Rage Against The Machine were such big influences on me, but I don’t think that what people want at the moment. We live in a very conservative era of pop music and what you hear on the radio and the gig culture isn’t the same. Venues are shutting down. We all consume music on Youtube. Watching a video of Crass on Youtube isn’t that enjoyable, so yeah, I wish they existed. There probably is a band out there like that, we just need to find them and give them a chance.”

Mrs Brown’s Boys has just been voted the best sitcom of the century. How do you feel about that?

Laurie: “Of the century? You can’t knock anybody for being creative. They’re not doing the nine-to-five, so big up. I’m happy for them… but we would rather watch Bottom.”

Who would be in your EastEnders super group?

Laurie: “Danny Dyer, Phil Mitchell, Grant Mitchell…”

Isaac Holman (vocals, drums): “Sonia.”

Laurie: “And Shirley. Ian Beale would be carrying all the gear. I’d put Grant on shouting, like a hardcore band.”

Isaac: “There’s that dog called Wellard as well. He’s an Alsatian.”

Laurie: “He could be a guard dog. Phil Mitchell on bass, Shirley on drums, Sonia on keys.”

Isaac: “You haven’t mentioned Barry.”

Laurie: “Barry on lead guitar and backing vocals.”

When you were touring as a small band in a van, were there any habits either of you had that used to drive each other crazy?

Laurie: “We used to piss in bottles a lot. As soon as we got a tour manager that stopped. He heard the trickle and was like, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Don’t piss in my van.’ And we haven’t since.”

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/

How Grime Conquered Reading

Three years ago, grime was dead. Commercialised. Sold out. But at this year’s Reading Festival, the scale of the revitalised scene’s comeback is clear.

Birmingham Grime MC Lady Leshurr (1Xtra Stage, Friday, 12:55) weighed in on why that might be, telling us, “I think there’s belief again, that’s why. I think there was a point that grime was really quiet and there was no one really at the forefront of grime trying to bring it through and keep it alive, and then new artists came along like Stormzy and Skepta, they just came and refreshed the scene again.”

She’s right to mention Stormzy (BBC 1Xtra Stage, Saturday, 22:30, pictured above), whose set was a real highlight of the festival. Introducing himself with a grime medley that looked all the way back to Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Pow 2004’, by the time he started spitting the mosh pits had already opened. The 23 year old Croydon artist was on form, showing everybody exactly why he’s been crowned the new king of grime. It wasn’t all shouting and skanking though: Stormzy also talked about Grime’s origins in East London and took time out to praise the originators of the genre, people like Lethal Bizzle, who inspired him as a kid, the first generation inspiring the second.

Boy Better Know (Main Stage, Friday, 17:45) were also flying the grime flag at Reading, playing one of the sets to remember on the Friday. ‘Calm’ was an explosive opener and pretty soon, with a collective including the likes of Skepta, Jammer and Solo 45, explosive became the norm. Highlights included Jammer’s entrance, swinging a mic in one hand and a champagne bottle in the other, and Solo 45, storming onto stage with calls of “feed em to the lions” booming from the crowd.

But grime’s not all about London – Manchester’s Bugzy Malone (1Xtra Stage, Saturday, 18:00) proves that it’s now a nationwide phenomenon. Playing a set of crowd pleasers, new material and even a song by house producer Ten Walls, Bugzy showed that the north has its voice too.

When grime first lost its way, it was because it had forgotten its heritage. Money and chart success was put above authenticity. But with the rallying call of ‘That’s Not Me’, Skepta gave every act around a manifesto to take the form back to what’s important. Artists are now rooting themselves in the history of the genre but looking forward too, and that’s why grime rules Reading 2016.

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/

Can A$AP Rocky Be Hip-Hop’s Saviour At Reading Festival?

Travis Scott cancelled. Fetty Wap pulled out. Some people would say it had been a bad year for hip-hop at Reading. Those people didn’t see A$AP Rocky’s set.

Coming onto the stage decorated with a pile of giant inflatable £50 notes plus a blow-up butterly and scorpion pinned to the backdrop, A$AP oozes confidence. ‘Long Live A$AP’ causes chaos all the way to the sound tower, and escalates as he chants “mosh pit, mosh pit, mosh pit”. The crowd obliges, and A$AP counts off each pit to the sounds of gunshots from his giant PA system. “Ten mosh pits, did y’all record that?” he says with a grin that reveals the gold and diamond grills on his teeth.

Mid-set he begins an a capella rendition of ‘Fuckin’ Problems’, before the beat crashes in and the thousands watching him lose it for what seems like the hundredth time. He isn’t done with them yet, demanding more people crowd-surf before shouting “Y’all tired already?” in disbelief.

He needn’t worry, as ‘Every Day’ sparks more mayhem. A$AP finishes by reminding us where he’s from: “New York, Harlem to be particular”. A long way for one performance, but god it was worth it.

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/

Stormzy’s Last-Minute Reading Slot Celebrates The Past And Future Of Grime

With a cry of, “Wagwan, Reading?” grime’s rising star takes to the stage. A last-minute replacement for Travis Scott, Stormzy had big boots to fill. But if the crowd reaction is anything to go by, they fitted him pretty well.

By way of introduction, his DJ takes us through the history of grime, playing a mix of classics that includes Meridian Dan’s ‘German Whip’, Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Pow 2004’ and Solo 45’s ‘Feed Em To The Lions’. Mosh pits open everywhere, and Stormzy isn’t even spitting yet.

When he does finally start he doesn’t pull any punches, hitting us with ‘Scary’ before promising an even better show than his 2015 Reading set.

As if things weren’t going well enough, he decides to shoot a music video for new song ‘Cold’, telling us: ‘I tried this at V festival but it didn’t work, so I need you to go f***ing mental’. The crowd happily obliges with a roar.

It isn’t all shouting and skanking though. Stormzy talks about grime’s origins in East London and takes time out to praise the originators of the genre. Off the back of this he launches into his verses on the remix to ‘Fester Skank’ and ‘Dude’, both are nods to Lethal Bizzle and his longevity in the scene.

Packing out a headline slot on the 1Xtra Stage without even releasing an album is a hell of a feat, and Stormzy is securing grime’s future. A massive part of that seems to be that he makes sure not to forget its past.

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/

Slaves Show Reading’s Main Stage How Not To Dress For A Wedding

The Main Stage at Reading is a big place. It must be even bigger when there are only two of you, but if Slaves were worried about seeming small they certainly didn’t show it.

The boys pile in with early classic ‘White Knuckle Ride’ and don’t let up for the entire set. Guitarist Laurie said the pair had ‘dressed up smart’ for their first Main Stage outing, Laurie in a Tartan suit and Isaac in a grey one. No shirt or tie, though.

It doesn’t last, of course. Within minutes the pair are stripping back their clobber almost as much as their music.

A shout of “f*** Brexit” from Laurie leads us into ‘Rich Man, I’m Not Your Bitch’, the incredible response of the crowd clearly pleasing the smiling Slaves.

Every song yields a sing-along and a mosh pit, leading both band members to proclaim their love for the fans and thank them for their support through the years.

Old favourite ‘Girl Fight’ is a standout moment in the set, a throwback to the earliest days of the band and a thank-you gift to everyone who has been with them since.

Slaves have had four successive promotions in consecutive years at Reading, from the tiny BBC Introducing Stage to the heights of the Main Stage without pausing for breath. With a second album due soon, and one of the most passionate fan bases around, there’s only one more place to go: a headline slot beckons.

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/